Breaking: Breakout Indie Hit ‘The Amazing Digital Circus’ Is Getting 9 More Episodes

With the year’s end just around the corner, we wanted to look back and see which distributors had 2023s to remember and which will be hoping to turn things around in 2024.

The main takeaway from the last 12 months looks to be that original films continue to struggle at the box office while major franchise entries keep printing money. That’s reflected in what we know about next year’s releases as well, with many large studios returning to franchises that have proved profitable in the past.

Here’s a close look at the animated feature distribution landscape of the past year:

Winners:

Universal Pictures

This year’s returning champion is Universal Pictures, which distributes Dreamworks Animation and Illumination films. If Universal had only released The Super Mario Bros. Movie this year, 2023 would have been a success. The film grossed $1.36 billion during its incredible theatrical run. But Mario wasn’t the company’s only film. Currently, Trolls Band Together is the 7th highest-grossing animated feature of 2023 worldwide, sitting at $183.6 million million. Dreamworks’ Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is undoubtedly a blemish on the distributor’s 2023 record, having grossed just $46.1 million worldwide, but the incredible success of Mario and Trolls easily offsets its poor performance. Universal still has one more film set to debut this year, Illumination’s Migration, which could make things look even better for the company.

In 2024, Universal will be hoping for another big year with major franchise releases Kung Fu Panda 4 and Despicable Me 4 on the calendar, as well as Chris Sander’ The Wild Robot.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie
The Super Mario Bros. Movie

GKIDS

Indie distributor GKIDS has had its best-ever year at the box office thanks to Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, the distributor’s highest-grossing film of all time. GKIDS also released The First Slam Dunk, Unicorn Wars, Ernest and Celestine: A Trip to Gibberitia, and Blue Giant.

GKIDS’s 2024 calendar is harder to predict than those of most other distributors because the company focuses on foreign acquisitions. We do know that next year, the company will release the French sci-fi feature Mars Express in U.S. theaters.

The Boy and the Heron
The Boy and the Heron

Netflix

In 2022, Netflix was a winner by virtue of its top-heavy catalog, headlined by Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio and Chris Williams’ The Sea Beast. This year, the streamer may not have a film with the awards season clout of Pinocchio (Although we’d caution against overlooking Nimona as a contender), but its original animated features have been some of the most-watched titles on the platform. The Magician’s Elephant, Nimona, Miraculous: Ladybug & Cat Noir, The Movie, The Monkey King, Leo, and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget all debuted on the streamer’s weekly global top 10 lists.

Netflix routinely releases the most animated features of any major distributor, and 2024 will be no different for the company. Next year, the platform will debut Orion and the Dark, Ultraman: Rising, In Your Dreams, Saving Bikini Bottom: The Sandy Cheeks Movie, Thelma the Unicorn, Spellbound, and That Christmas.

Nimona
Nimona

Sony Pictures

Sony swung into a winning position by releasing the second film from its Spider-Verse franchise. Across the Spider-Verse was praised by critics as a step forward for the franchise aesthetically and narratively and nearly doubled its predecessor’s box office, grossing $690.5 million worldwide.

Next year, Sony will distribute Alcon Entertainment’s The Garfield Movie, which carries some significant franchise power and is directed by Mark Dindal, a successful commercial filmmaker who helmed The Emperor’s New Groove and Cat’s Don’t Dance.

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Crunchyroll

Sony-owned anime specialist Crunchyroll released Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume in 2023, which became the highest-grossing title of the filmmaker’s career in the U.S. at $10.9 million, Suzume was also the beneficiary of Crunchyroll’s first-ever mainstream awards season campaign, which paid off with a Golden Globe nomination. The streamer also released That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: The Movie – Scarlet Bond and Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – To the Swordsmith Village. The latter made $10.1 million in the States, which is impressive since the film was just three episodes of the series stitched together.

Like with GKIDS, it’s hard to predict what Crunchyroll will do next year, but the company has had lots of success with big Japanese IPs, and we expect to see more of that in 2024.

Suzume
Suzume
Losers:

Walt Disney Studios

The house that Walt built celebrated its 100th anniversary this year in an ignominious fashion. For the second year in a row, Disney lands on our list of losers after fumbling the launch of Elemental and engineering the critical and box office disaster that was Wish. Elemental eventually grossed nearly $500 million thanks to strong word of mouth, but its Cannes debut was a critical nightmare, and its opening weekend was hugely disappointing.

Bob Iger will have his hands full trying to turn things around in 2024. Perhaps returns for Inside Out and The Lion King can help, but it’s hard to have much confidence in either proposition right now. The company is planning brief theatrical runs for three popular Pixar films that went straight to streaming during the pandemic, Soul, Luca, and Turning Red, that will be interesting to track. Disney will also certainly distribute a new Walt Disney Animation Studios film that will be announced later. Here’s hoping it fares better than the studio’s last two features.

Wish
Wish

Warner Bros. Discovery / New Line

Warner Bros.’s most successful theatrical animated release this year was Mummies, a Spanish film that received almost no marketing and grossed just $4.3 million in the U.S. Globally, Mummies made $54.4 million, a considerable sum for a Spanish animated feature, but well below the standards a company like Warner should be aspiring to. Warner Bros. also very famously axed the fully finished Coyote vs. Acme hybrid feature that, by all accounts, is a wonderful film that several other distributors are circling.

Warner Bros. will release at least two animated features in 2024, Genndy Tartakovsky’s Fixed (through New Line) and The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim. Fixed is one of the biggest question marks on next year’s theatrical calendar. Tartakovsky is an animation rockstar and one of the best-known names in the industry for his work aimed at kids and family audiences. How will fans react to an R-rated film from the Hotel Transylvania director?

Mummies
Mummies
Somewhere In Between:

Paramount Pictures

It’s been a while since Paramount had a single animated feature in theaters to get excited about, and in 2023, the distributor had two. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem and PAW Patrol: The Mighty Movie both did well at the box office and, perhaps more importantly for the distributor, helped fuel massive merchandise campaigns for both franchises. Mutant Mayhem made $180.5 million on a modest $70 million budget, while Might Movie grossed $197.4 million on an even more impressive $30 million budget.

So, the company must be a winner, right? The problem with Paramount is that it also buried Under the Boardwalk on its streaming platform after an extremely limited theatrical run. The film was original meant to get a full run in cinemas. Now, Paramount is doing the same thing with The Tiger’s Apprentice, which will be available on Paramount+ starting February 2, 2024.

Next year, the only big theatrical animation release Paramount has announced is Transformers One, which will hit theaters on September 13.

Mutant Mayhem, Under the Boardwalk
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, Under the Boardwalk

Pictured at top: The Super Mario Bros. Movie, The Boy and the Heron, Wish, Under the Boardwalk

Latest News from Cartoon Brew